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INSIDE THE LINES: THE CHALLENGE AND IMPORTANCE OF THE SUNSHINE DOUBLE

by Mike McIntyre

March 21, 2023

Hello tennis fans and welcome to “Inside the Lines,” a column I’ll be writing for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers each week that features news and story lines from the world of men’s tennis.

In the early months of the tennis season, no other events pull the back-to-back star power of Indian Wells and Miami. Officially known as the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open presented by Itau, these two successive events have been dubbed the Sunshine Swing.

Currently Indian Wells has the tagline of being the fifth Slam (which I discussed in-depth last week on Inside the Lines). That wasn’t always the case as New York Times Tennis Writer Christopher Clarey informed me that back in the 1990s it was actually the Miami event that had that moniker. Either way you look at it, these are some big-time tournaments that have a Grand Slam feel in part because all of the top men and women are usually in attendance.

In some ways, winning a Masters 1000 event is tougher than winning a Slam, as players are forced to play daily matches as the tournament picks up steam. While the Slams are best of five for the men which can lead to some agonizingly long matches, the players have at least a day to recover in between. Winning one of Indian Wells or Miami signals a fantastic week and a half of top-level tennis being played by the champion, but how about those few players who have managed to walk away with both trophies?

Called the Sunshine Double, only seven men on the ATP Tour have ever managed to complete this difficult feat. Here’s the list, featuring a trio of American players in the 1990s, an enigma who once held the No. 1 ranking, a resurgent legend in his early 30s and then more recently two of the greatest of the great in Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who both incredibly pulled-off the trick on multiple occasions.

Here’s the list to refresh your memory of the players who have accomplished the Sunshine Double:

  • 1991: Jim Courier
  • 1992: Michael Chang
  • 1994: Pete Sampras
  • 1998: Marcelo Rios
  • 2001: Andre Agassi
  • 2005: Roger Federer
  • 2006: Federer
  • 2011: Novak Djokovic
  • 2014: Djokovic
  • 2015: Djokovic
  • 2016: Djokovic
  • 2017: Federer

The above compilation of players are some of the best the sport has ever seen, with only Rios missing out on Grand Slam success – not due to a lack of talent but more so due to his missing work ethic and motivation.

In eight of the 12 years that the Sunshine Double was achieved, the winner had previously made the final of or won the Australian Open, showing that their early season hardcourt prowess was still firmly on display come March.

I spoke with Alex Gruskin this week, Editor-in-Chief of Cracked Racquets, a popular and extremely engaging American tennis podcast, on the topic and here’s what he had to say about the relevance of winning Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back:

“Given the strength and the depth of the fields at Indian Wells and Miami, one can justifiably claim that a player that captures both titles leaves the Sunshine Swing as the clear-cut best player in the world. When else on the calendar can you say that?”

In recent years we’ve had a wider variety of champions at one event or the other with Cam Norrie and Taylor Fritz winning the past two editions of Indian Wells, while Hubert Hurkacz and Carlos Alcaraz have prevailed in Miami. Perhaps Alcaraz, who just captured his first title in Indian Wells and in the process reclaimed the No. 1 ranking, will be able to add the Sunshine Double to his incredibly impressive list of early career accomplishments.

Brad Gilbert spoke with me this week on Match Point Canada and had this to say when I asked him about the level of talent it takes to win both events in the same year.

“It’s a good question obviously. To be able to win these tournaments, they have deep fields, really deep fields. And to win a tournament like this means you’ve playing at an extremely high level. To do them back-to-back is so rare. To win the sunshine double, you’re somebody that’s elite level. There’s nobody that’s winning the sunshine double that’s not winning lots of majors.”

Clearly Carlos Alcaraz is already playing consistently at an elite level. One could easily imagine him winning multiple majors over the course of his career with what we’ve seen so far from the nineteen-year-old talent. We’ll find out soon enough if he’s capable of becoming just the eighth player in ATP history to take home the elusive and meaningful Sunshine Double!

TENNIS CANADA BRACKET CHALLENGE

As Indian Wells has come to its conclusion, I’m happy to share my results in the Tennis Canada Bracket Challenge. I hope my results make you feel better about your own!

In the WTA bracket I had chosen Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff to make the Finals, which clearly never materialized. I did have the actual eventual champion Elena Rybakina getting to the semis which helped me salvage some points. One of my bolder picks blew up in my face in the opening round when young American talent Alycia Parks went down 6-1, 6-1 at the hands of Anna Kalinskaya. I had picked her to reach the quarters. As a result of my misplaced selections, I’m in 151st place overall right now after Dubai and Indian Wells.

Read also: Elena Rybakina shines in Indian Wells

On the men’s side I had better luck, where my two picks for the final of Alcaraz and Medvedev held true. Both were playing such fantastic ball in recent weeks that you’d have to be really going out on a limb to have not chosen them for a deep run in Indian Wells. Aside from that it was a mediocre week for me on the men’s side too, further proof that when it comes to picks, those of us covering the sport are none the wiser! I’m currently sitting in 135th place overall.

Onwards to the Miami Open – good luck everyone!